California Rain and Fire Climatology

The recent spate of large fires has pushed 2020 in the unenviable position of already having the 3rd most acreage burned. And there are are still over four months of the year left, and the dry Fall months with offshore winds are often when things get worse. To date, 2020 has seen approximately 1.35 million acres burned, behind only 2018 which had 1.85M acres burned and 2008 with 1.38M acres.

The potential for a bad year has been exacerbated by the exceptionally dry 2019-2020 rainfall season, that statewide averaged just 73% of normal (21.78").

And looking at the combination of the two shows a real bias toward drier years having more acreage burned across Califonia. 

However, there are almost as many caveats as there are datapoints. First, the impacts on the state are more than just the number of acres, but where they are and do they include inhabited areas. And, the rainfall dataset is for a single statewide average and does not take into account if the rain fell more in areas that saw more acres burned.  But the pattern is compelling and should be a cautionary tale for dry years.

Jan Null, CCM
Certified Consulting Meteorologist
Golden Gate Weather Services
Twitter: @ggweather